Diabetes: Let’s consider that this disease affects approximately 370 million people worldwide and many people across the globe remain undiagnosed. There are definitely some misconstrued ideas when it comes to the condition so we are here to set a few things straight.
What is Diabetes?
When blood glucose, also called blood sugar, levels rise after you eat, your pancreas releases insulin into the blood. Insulin then lowers blood glucose to keep it in the normal range.
Diabetes occurs when your blood glucose or blood sugar (our main source of energy derived from our food) is too high. In order to convert glucose into energy we need the hormone Insulin which is produced by the pancreas. If, over time, this process doesn’t occur effectively and the glucose remains in the blood (rather than being utilised by our cells), it can cause health problems.
Diabetes is serious and can not be ‘cured’ per say, however it can be managed and a healthy life may be enjoyed.
Types of Diabetes
This indicates that you are incapable of making insulin naturally. This happens when the immune system prevents the pancreas from producing insulin. Most people with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily in order to survive. This can be diagnosed at any age but is more common in children and young adults. This is far more rare than Type 2.
This indicates that you are capable of producing insulin but your body doesn’t use the insulin properly or doesn’t make sufficient amounts. This type is more commonly diagnosed in middle-age to older people and the most common type.
You are more likely to develop this aged 45 or over, if it runs in the family and if you are overweight. High blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high level of triglycerides, being physically inactive, having a history of heart disease or stroke, suffering from depression, having polycystic ovary syndrome, having ‘acanthuses nigricans’ (dark, thick, velvety skin around the neck or armpits), pre-diabetes (when your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes), and gestational diabetes all contribute to the likelihood of someone developing Type 2 diabetes. This is possible to manage without medication but often requires medicine to control blood glucose levels. A healthy lifestyle is a key tool in managing Type 2.
This type can develop in during pregnancy and many times goes away once the baby is born. Once you have had gestational diabetes it raises your chances of developing Type 2 later in life. On occasion it is actually Type 2 rather than gestational during the pregnancy. Again, this is manageable without medication but your blood glucose levels and blood pressure and cholesterol need to be strictly managed and monitored at all times. There are medicines available if this is not possible.
One other type is an inherited form named Monogenic Diabetes, another is related to having cystic fibrosis.
Health Issues caused by Diabetes
High blood sugar can lead to the following health issues if left untreated;
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Eye dysfunction
- Dental problems
- Nerve damage
- Foot problems
Symptoms: how to recognise when you have diabetes
Some symptoms that are easily noticeable are;
- Increased thirst and urinating often
- Increased hunger
- Blurred vision
- Numbness in the extremities
- Non-healing sores
- Unexplained weight-loss.
All too often the symptoms go unnoticed or are actually unnoticeable and many people remain undiagnosed until further, related illnesses occur.
Causes of Diabetes
The onset of Type 1 can occur rapidly, in a matter of weeks, and does so when your immune system decides to attack and destroy the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. It is believed that the reasons for this are genetic and environmental, such as a virus, although scientists are still studying the disease to try and confirm the causes.
The onset of Type 2 can occur far more gradually, the symptoms may be so mild that they go unnoticed, symptoms may not even develop at all and the diagnosis may be given much later when discovering a person has diabetes-related health problems. It is generally caused by unhealthy lifestyle habits and genetics. You are more likely to develop Type 2 if you are overweight or obese. This can cause insulin resistance (a condition where muscle, liver and fat cells do not use insulin properly) which means the body requires extra insulin in order to help glucose enter cells, reducing the blood sugar levels to normal.
This is caused by a combination of factors; lifestyle, genetics and hormonal changes during pregnancy. These hormones are produced by the placenta and contribute to insulin resistance, this occurs in every pregnancy. However, some are able to produce sufficient insulin to overcome the resistance, those who are not and whose pancreases can’t provide enough insulin develop gestational diabetes. Weight gain is also a link to gestational diabetes, as with Type 2 diabetes, if the woman is already overweight they may already have insulin resistance and so the pregnancy will spike this. Studies show that genetics do have a role, and that family history of gestational diabetes makes the odds more likely. Genetics also becomes an apparent factor when you take into account that diabetes occurs more often in certain racial groups.
- Genetic Mutations: Monogenic Diabetes, Cystic Fibrosis, and Hemochromatosis can cause diabetes as all damage the pancreas and its ability to function effectively.
- Hormonal Diseases: Cushing’s Syndrome, Acromegaly, Hyperthyroidism all encourage the body to over-produce certain hormones which can then cause insulin resistance and diabetes.
- Pancreatic Damage or removal can result in diabetes as the beta cells necessary to produce insulin are either reduced, damaged or lacking.
- Medicinal Side Effects: certain medicines can prevent insulin from working effectively or being produced efficiently; niacin, diuretics, anti-seizure drugs, psychiatric drugs, HIV drugs, anti-inflammatories (certain types).
The most effective way to prevent diabetes, as with most health issues, is to eat well, sleep well and exercise. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating a balanced diet of fresh, nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods (mainly fruit and vegetables), ensuring you get the right amount of vitamins and minerals daily, staying hydrated, not drinking high-sugar content drinks, not eating fast food, avoiding fried foods and trans fats, lowering your salt intake, avoiding sweets, not drinking alcohol to excess, not smoking. Everything in moderation. Try to ensure you sleep for at least eight hours per day, uninterrupted. Exercise is also paramount. Everybody needs to keep their body functioning properly and exercise is essential to this. Walking, swimming, stretching are all achievable and healthy forms of exercise. It has been shown that we need to move our body for at least 15 minutes per hour, per day and that sitting still for too long is detrimental to our health and energy levels. If you are overweight you need to work on reducing this in order to prevent potential diabetes development.
If you maintain a healthy lifestyle (see prevention section above), monitor and manage your blood glucose, pressure and cholesterol efficiently (as well as medication where necessary) you can live a perfectly normal life while having diabetes. If you do not take care of yourself and keep all these things in constant check you run a far higher risk of developing more serious health conditions. If blood sugar levels become too low and Hypoglycemia occurs this needs to be treated immediately as it can be life threatening. If they are too high this can cause Hyperglycemia (symptoms occur such as; thirst, fatigue, headaches, irregular urination, blurry vision).
Carbohydrate counting involves keeping track of the amount of carbohydrates you eat and drink each day. Because carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body, they affect your blood glucose levels more than other foods do. Carb counting can help you manage these levels. If you take insulin, counting carbohydrates can help you know how much insulin to take.
The right amount of carbohydrates varies by how you manage your diabetes, including how physically active you are and what medicines you take, if any. Most carbohydrates come from starches, fruits, milk, and sweets. Try to limit carbohydrates with added sugars or those with refined grains, such as white bread and white rice. Instead, eat carbohydrates from fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat or nonfat milk. Make healthy carbohydrates, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat milk, part of your diabetes meal plan.
Smoking narrows the blood vessels (as does diabetes) which is why it is extremely dangerous for those with the disease. It raises the risk of heart attack, stroke, nerve disease, kidney disease, eye disease, amputation, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and fatigue.
There are various methods by which to take insulin if needed: needle and syringe, pump, pen, inhaler, injection port, jet injector. Naturally, you would need to discuss with a health professional the specifics of this and which suits you best.
This is an informative outline for people interested in understanding the basics of diabetes. If you are concerned you may be prone to it, or would like to be tested for it please contact a practitioner to discuss.
Diabetes Risk Awareness Course
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer a Diabetes Risk Awareness Course, a distance learning diploma course that will broaden your knowledge and increase your awareness of this disease. For Holistic therapists this course will make sure they are aware of the symptoms and dangers of diabetes so they are in a position to know when to ensure that a client seeks medical assistance. Knowledge can save lives! The course will equally serve anyone with an interest in the subject and a desire to help themselves, their friends and family.